Curlew SandpiperCalidris ferruginea

adult male, breeding
Michael P. Gage/VIREO
juvenile
R. J. Chandler/VIREO
adult, nonbreeding
Dr. Warwick Tarboton/VIREO

Family

Description

A few Curlew Sandpipers turn up on the Atlantic Coast every year, rewarding birders who scan through the shorebird flocks. Elsewhere in North America, this Eurasian wader is only a rare visitor. It has nested at Point Barrow, Alaska, but in most years it is completely absent there. Most of those seen as migrants are adults in bright rusty-red breeding plumage; young birds and adults in winter plumage are more likely to be overlooked.

Habitat

Tidal flats, beaches; wet tundra in summer. In migration, found in places where other small sandpipers congregate, including mudflats and beaches along coast, muddy edges of ponds and lakes. Nesting habitat in Alaska is along low ridges and slight rises in wet, grassy tundra.

Feeding Diet

Insects, crustaceans, mollusks, worms. Diet in New World not well known. In Old world, eats wide variety of insects (especially flies and beetles), mainly in breeding season; also crustaceans (including amphipods and shrimp), small mollusks, marine worms, a few seeds.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly in shallow water, probing in mud with bill, sometimes picking items from surface. When feeding with Dunlins, Curlew Sandpiper often wades in slight deeper water, and tends to eat larger items.

Nesting

Male proclaims territory by calling from raised mound, performing low flight display. Courtship displays are more complex than those of most small sandpipers. Male often pursues female in air; both birds perform ritualized nest-making movements; male runs around female in zigzag pattern, with wings raised, tail spread, white rump patch displayed prominently. After elaborate courtship, male apparently departs, leaving female to care for eggs and young. Nest site is on ground on hummock or low mound on tundra. Nest is shallow depression, lined with bits of moss, lichens, leaves. Eggs: Usually 4. Creamy to pale olive, blotched with brown and reddish-brown. Incubation is apparently by female only, roughly 21 days. Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Young are tended by female, but feed themselves. Development of young and age at first flight not well known.

Eggs

Usually 4. Creamy to pale olive, blotched with brown and reddish-brown. Incubation is apparently by female only, roughly 21 days. Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Young are tended by female, but feed themselves. Development of young and age at first flight not well known.

Young

Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Young are tended by female, but feed themselves. Development of young and age at first flight not well known.

Conservation

Population trends not well known. May have better nesting success in years with high lemming populations, when predators concentrate on lemmings and leave the sandpipers alone.

Range

A very long-distance migrant, nesting in high arctic Siberia and wintering to southern coasts of Africa, Australia.

Listen

various calls

Similar Species

adult, breeding

Dunlin

The name, first applied long ago, simply means "little dun-colored (gray-brown) bird," a good description of the Dunlin in winter plumage. Spending the winter farther north than most of its relatives, this species is a familiar sight along the outer beaches during the cold months, as far north as New England and even southern Alaska. It is often in large flocks; in flight, these flocks may twist and bank in unison, in impressive aerial maneuvers. In breeding plumage, the Dunlin is so much more brightly colored as to seem like a different bird.

adult, breeding

Red Knot

This chunky shorebird has a rather anonymous look in winter plumage, but is unmistakable in spring, when it wears robin-red on its chest. It nests in the far north, mostly well above the Arctic Circle (the first known nest was discovered during Admiral Peary's expedition to the North Pole in 1909); its winter range includes shorelines around the world, south to Australia and southern South America. Where it is common, the Red Knot may roost in very densely packed flocks, standing shoulder to shoulder on the sand.

adult, breeding

Stilt Sandpiper

This wader is related to our very smallest sandpipers, but it is much more stretched-out in shape, designed for feeding in deeper water. In its drab winter plumage the Stilt Sandpiper is often overlooked, passed off as either a yellowlegs or a dowitcher, depending on what it is doing. Standing or walking, it looks rather like a yellowlegs; feeding, it acts like a dowitcher, probing the mud with a sewing-machine motion.

adult, breeding

Western Sandpiper

A close relative of the Semipalmated Sandpiper. Western Sandpipers nest mostly in Alaska and migrate mostly along the Pacific Coast, but many reach the Atlantic Coast in fall and remain through the winter. Of the various dull gray sandpipers to be found commonly on coastal beaches in winter, Western is the smallest.

adult, breeding

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Small and plain in appearance, this sandpiper is important in terms of sheer numbers. It often gathers by the thousands at stopover points during migration. Semipalmated Sandpipers winter mostly in South America, and studies have shown that they may make a non-stop flight of nearly 2000 miles from New England or eastern Canada to the South American coast. The name "Semipalmated" refers to slight webbing between the toes, visible only at extremely close range.

adult male, breeding

Red-necked Phalarope

Phalaropes reverse the usual sex roles in birds: Females are larger and more colorful than males; females take the lead in courtship, and males are left to incubate the eggs and care for the young. Red-necked Phalaropes nest around arctic tundra pools and winter at sea. During migration they pause on shallow ponds in the west, where they spin in circles, picking at the water's surface. However, most apparently migrate offshore, especially in the east. Despite their small size and delicate shape, they seem perfectly at home on the open ocean.

adult male, breeding

Wilson's Phalarope

Phalaropes reverse the usual sex roles in birds: Females are larger and more colorful than males; females take the lead in courtship, and males are left to incubate the eggs and care for the young. Wilson's Phalarope is an odd shorebird that swims and spins on prairie marshes. The other two species of phalaropes nest in the Arctic and winter at sea, but Wilson's is a bird of inland waters, nesting mostly on the northern Great Plains. Huge numbers may gather in fall on some salty lakes in the west, such as Mono Lake and Great Salt Lake, before migrating to South America.

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